Today a piece of synchronicity dropped into my inbox, an email from chabad.org. In it was an article entitled “Breaking Walls, The Three Weeks” by Sara Esther Crispe. She spoke about the three weeks of mourning mandated by Jewish law to commemorate the smashing of the ten commandment tablets, the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 423 BCE and then of the second temple by the Romans in 69 CE.
During this period of three weeks which started on Sunday (17 Tammuz), Jewish people do not hold weddings but carry out traditional mourning practices such as not cutting their hair, not eating meat or drinking wine, not listening to music, not purchasing new clothes or bathing for pleasure, and generally refraining from anything where the sole purpose is enjoyment and pleasure.
What struck me was her mention that in the Qabbalistic work Zohar these three weeks are characterised as the seed for what will become. The Three Weeks (Bein HaMetzarim) begin on 17 Tammuz. The number 17 in gematria is equivalent to ‘tov’, the Hebrew word for ‘good’ although the good is still hidden in darkness. The final day of mourning, the 9 Av (10 August) was prophesied to become the most joyous day of the year. It isn’t yet but it will be as the sages teach that Moshiach (the Messiah) will be born either spiritually or physically on that day.
Now I have no time for talk of Messiahs. But what interested me was this:
Along with the 21 days of mourning, there are 21 days of celebration in the Hebrew calendar: Shabbat (1), Rosh Chodesh (1), Passover (7), Shavuot (1), Rosh Hashanah (2), Yom Kippur (1), Sukkot (7) and Simchat Torah (1) [the counting may seem off as Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh are actually celebrated each week/month respectively, but this is the official way of counting them]. The 21 days of the Three Weeks correspond to a vision the prophet Jeremiah had about the destruction of the temple, where he saw a staff of almond wood and heard G-d’s warning [out of respect for the author of the article, I'm not writing the word G-d in full as is usual amongst Orthodox Jews]. The Talmud says, “The almond takes 21 days from when it blossoms until it ripens. This corresponds to the 21 days between the 17 Tammuz, when the walls of Jerusalem fell, and the ninth of Av, when the Holy Temple was burned.” Rabbi Joseph Rozen (the Gaon of Rogatchov – 1858-1936) wrote that G-d’s warning contained a consolation through the symbol of almonds; almonds start off bitter and become sweet as they develop. This is why the 21 days of Bein HaMetzarim are symbolised by the 21 day ‘staff of almond wood’. Crispe writes, “…not only are we able to negate the bitterness of these days, but we are capable of turning their bitterness to sweetness, of transforming these days of mourning into days of rejoicing and gladness.”
What better message could I receive after having had such a painful emotional breakthrough with my doctor yesterday the 21 July on what is essentially the first day of Bein HaMetzarim (as days are measured from evening to evening)? The mourning time may be beginning for Orthodox Jews, but I think it is time for me to think of joyous things and to take the almond blossom as a symbol of my own rebirth.
© starofseshat 2008